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September 23, 2004


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Can anyone enlighten me about the thinking behind the recent Mazda "Zoom-zoom" campaign? Sleek and flawless young people participating happily in extreme sports; cell phones chirping impishly; soaring, if friendly, world music; and a chevron of shiney Mazdas racing heedlessly across the usual salt flats. It's all a sparkly rapture of transparency, streamlining, and youth. And then comes a question that seems meant to tie all these elements together: "What's your Zoom-zoom?"

Huh? I've seen ads from this series three or four times, and each time I've found them so nonsensical that I thought I'd developed aphasia. Nothing going on around me seemed to make any sense any longer. What are we meant to feel that cell phones, extreme sports, and Mazdas have in common? And what's with "Zoom-zoom"? Hiphop slang I'm unfamiliar with? Some ad-writer's hopeful invention?

Is the whole package supposed to convey "lovably goofy, young, and with-it"? Is it meant to suggest silvery Mac-G5-style bliss? (Hmm: I'm reminding myself of my own posting about silver cars. A pity for my thesis that the Mazdas in these ads come in Life Saver colors -- blue, red, etc ...) Are these the elements that are being conjoined, and the values that are being sold? Me, I found the ads' thinking and imagery embarrassing -- so infantile that they made me cringe. I mean, "Zoom-zoom": that's baby-talk, right?

I'm tempted to rant a bit about pop culture, These Kids These Days, electronics, and adolescence, but will spare you. Well, OK, but only because you insist: the gist of this rant I'm sparing you would be that the all-pervasiveness (and the effectiveness) of whooshy electronic-pop-media values seems to be making it impossible for kids to imagine what it might be like to grow up -- ie., to adapt to the actual facts of life and thereby become adults.

Of course, there's always the possibility that my reaction is nothing but an old-fart sign of how removed from the general zeitgeist I've become these days.

A setting-it-in-context, film-history note: did you know that this kind of associative editing -- where you slam previously-unrelated images up next to each other so as to establish a connection between them and thereby spark off a new effect -- was originally devised to help sell the Soviet revolution? That's right: at its origin, it's a Soviet-revolutionary-film stylistic move. One shot was the thesis; the next was the antithesis; and the impact that was made by putting the shots next to each other was the synthesis ... Hegelian filmmaking, Marxian filmmaking -- that was the idea. Sergei Eisenstein worked this angle so resourcefully that he earned a big spot for himself in the film-history reference books.

How funny/ironic/paradoxical/pleasing/hilarious/sad that this maneuver has been taken over by the corporate-consumer world, where it has become the standard way ads proceed. Hey, I'm struck by something similar when I visit the new Times Square. When I'm there, I find it impossible not to be reminded of the cities that revolutionary Soviet architects imagined back in the '20s. I blogged about the new Times Square here.

My general reflection: people often imagine that the result of doing away with traditional restraints and structures will be personal liberation, and personal freedom. But what often seems to be set free instead is big money, which rushes in and takes over. Yet people go on yearning for freedom, and they go on imagining that what will bring them fulfillment is the wholesale knocking-over of traditional restraints and structures ...

Meanwhile, life morphs into a cyber-bazaar -- an interpenetrating hyper-network of big-box stores, thongs, fiber-optic cables, metrosexuals, twinkly blobitecture, parking lots, spyware, suit-yourself titillation, and gated communities. And the people inhabiting this glowing database-world feel less and less like human beings, and more and more like throughput. Shudder. Don't ask me why, but I'm feeling the need to link to the manifesto of the Slow Food movement. OK, now I'm calmer.

The artistic utopia of the revolutionaries has arrived, and we're livin' it whether we want to or not. A bit of a surprise that it's being paid for by Viacom and Mazda, but I guess Utopias need sponsors too.

Here's something about the Zoom-zoom campaign. Car and Driver thinks that Mazda hopes "Zoom-zoom" suggests "amusingly youthful." Are you amused? I'm certainly not feeling youthful.



posted by Michael at September 23, 2004


Whatever Mazda is doing, one assumes the car sales numbers are favorable enough so that they keep employing this campaign and this ad agency. I believe this campaign has been running for 2-3 years, no? Of course, like you, I find it almost impossible to decode, so I can't even discuss how, er, successful or unsuccessful these ads are. I'm thinking that, short of talking to the ad agency about these ads, it would be kind of interesting to to look at the demographics of Mazda buyers of the past few years. Presumably the ad is based on some target group, that, presumably, likes this sort of stuff, whatever it is, exactly. Presumably.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on September 23, 2004 12:29 PM

How much do you think people really respond to these sorts of ads, though? I mean, when I'm looking to buy a six-pack, I think, "which one will give me a cheap 'n tasty buzz," not "which one will cause hot women to clamor for my attentions?" (And not just because I am - as MB might phrase it - a hetero gal.) Same thing with cars: I chose my car based on my research regarding technology, price, safety, etc. - not this oh-so-mysterious "zoom zoom." What do you suppose would happen if I went to a Honda dealer and asked which model had the greatest "zoom-zoom quotient"?

My question is, essentially, do people really buy into this garbage, or is it just a matter of the company trying any way possible to slap the image of their product in our faces until we recognize it on the street?

Posted by: Dente on September 23, 2004 1:31 PM

Finally, here is something that I can write about with authority - self-conferred, of course, but based upon 10 years of martial arts practice.

One of the martial arts that I practise is called "Capoeira." It's a Brazilian art whose foundation is based upon African culture, especially candomble, kind of voodoo. Part of the requirement of practising this art is to learn to play musical instruments and sing in Brazilian portuguese. A Brazilian acquaintance found it hilarious that I sang with perfect accent - but I can't speak Portuguese to save my life!

Anyway, one of the songs that I learned begins something like this: Zoom, Zoom, Zoom, Capoeira mataou (sp?) The translation: swish, swish, swish (or whatever the sound of cutting knife/machete is ), Capoeira kills.

M in zoom is silent; I forget the meaning of the song, but there is the literal meaning and the hidden meaning. Only the initiated ones were supposed to know the hidden meanings (initiated in the religious sense). But Capoeira is now taught to non-black, secular people, so the hidden meanings are more or less taught liberally, but to understand them fully, one has to be a practitioner of candomble.

Somebody at Mazda must have thought that the spelling of that machete swishing sound coincided wonderfully with the English word, "Zoom," to connote speed, so they began to use that song and the first sentence in that lyric for the ad.

The first ad was quite faithful to the song - it opened with a riff from berimbau (a string instrument), followed by the opening verse/melody, before adding the fancy, derivative, corrupted chorus to end the ad. Nowadays I think all that's remaining is the fancy, pop like chorus.

Bob Yu

Posted by: Bob Yu on September 23, 2004 1:38 PM

I don't get the Zoom-zoom commercials either. I've probably seen the ads, oh 30 or 40 times over the past 2 years...It wasn't until two weeks ago that I even started associating Zoom-zoom with Mazada--and that only happened because I had a discussion with a friend about how bad the ad was, and whether it was for Nissan or Subaru. That to me means the ad is failure on a pretty basic level. The AFLAC duck, it is not.

Posted by: MH on September 23, 2004 1:53 PM

I must be really out of it. I thought the point of "zoom zoom" was to suggest speed - as in "our cars go zoom really fast".

"My general reflection: people often imagine that the result of doing away with traditional restraints and structures will be personal liberation, and personal freedom. But what often seems to be set free instead is big money, which rushes in and takes over. Yet people go on yearning for freedom, and they go on imagining that what will bring them fulfillment is the wholesale knocking-over of traditional restraints and structures ... "

"Big money" doesn't rush in and take over, "big money" rushes in and follows the direction of consumers in an effort to become bigger money. So does small money, except where the big money manages to introduce restraints and structures to tie them up. Consumers are running the show here, subject of course to limitations from, you guessed it, traditional restraints and structures which grow in some areas even as they shrink in others.

"Meanwhile, life morphs into a cyber-bazaar -- an interpenetrating hyper-network of big-box stores, fiber-optic cables, parking lots, and gated communities. "

Big-box stores and huge parking lots come in part from dumb zoning laws. Gated communities come from the state's failure to stop people from breaking into your house and shooting you. Fiber-optic cables let you read and see a lot more stuff, a lot cheaper, than you could before. None of this counts as "doing away with traditional restraints and structures", unless you count a vigorously enforced prohibition against shooting people as the "traditional restraints and structures" we wanted to do away with. What happened is, again, lots more restraints and structures have been introduced in some areas while they were relaxed in other areas.

Posted by: Ken on September 23, 2004 2:13 PM

None of this counts as "doing away with traditional restraints and structures"

I'm sorry, that didn't exactly make sense. What I'm saying is that all of these things are either desirable because they represent a reduction in restraint and structure, or they are caused by things other than "doing away with traditional restraints and structures" in a quest for "personal liberation". Again, I don't think anyone in his right mind would expect that doing away with "restraints and structures" prohibiting murder would lead to "personal liberation".

Posted by: Ken on September 23, 2004 2:16 PM

"According to the 'What is your zoom-zoom?' section [no longer there] of the Mazda Web site, 'In grown-up language, it means the exhilaration and liberation that come from experiencing sheer motion. But as usual, children put it much better. And they simply call it Zoom-Zoom.' Whatever! You see, friendly readers, there are times when the answer is more puzzling than the question. This is one of those times."


Ad Report Card: Reader Picks and Pans
By Rob Walker
Posted Monday, March 12, 2001, at 8:30 PM PT


Dave Lull

Posted by: Dave Lull on September 23, 2004 2:19 PM

This may be dunderheady but I was thinking that the reason the Zoom-zoom tagline is baffling you, Michael, may be simply because, in this second generations of ads, it's not clear where the phrase comes from. Didn't it originate as a lyric in a song built around a catch-phrase that was supposed to tell car buyers that Mazdas were peppy vehicles? "Zoom zoom zoom," went the song, as you watched a Mazda zip around the hairpin turns of some idyllic Northern California terrain. "Zoom zoom zoom zoom zoom." And then the kid in the Harry Potteresque blazer-and-knickers getup leans in, with conspiratorial airs, and whispers to the camera: "Zoom zoom."

Posted by: Vanessa Del Blowhard on September 23, 2004 2:44 PM

FvB -- LOL, that's a funny evocation of how I feel these days whenever I check in with pop culture. "What the ...?" "Huh?" "You mean ...?" I felt atop popular culture (in the sense of instinctively getting it) up to about 32 or 33, I think. Then one day something went whoosh and I realized it had passed me by. It was like surfing, doing really well, and then you miss one wave, and you can never find the rhythm again. When did you feel you lost the pop pulse?

Dente -- It's a good question, and I certainly don't know. Do you have any hunch? I mean, on the one hand, many people aren't fools and are wise to the game. On the other hand, when you're surrounded by zillions of these things it's hard not to let a few of them seep by the defenses. I'm always fascinated by reports people occasionally do about what kinds of ads work well in certain cultures and not in other cultures -- which would suggest that various cultures do have their own strong tastes and preferences in imagery, humor, sales pitches, etc. (The French notoriously love style and wit, but blank out in the face of self-deprecating humor, for instance.) And zeitgeists do evolve, god knows. But do they do so because anyone really wants them to? Is it all just a matter of keeping the novelties seeming ... novel? My deeper (I think, anyway) hunch is that, in the States anyway, ad values have displaced traditional "meaning" values -- that electronic-pop-media values are ad values, and have become the culture's standard and central thing. But I'll try to formulate that a little more sensibly and entertainingly ... I dunno, how do you find you take ads? As information? As entertainment? Something else?

Bob -- That's fascinating, thanks -- I had no idea. I've wondered about "whoosh" sounds like the ones that martial-arts movies seem to have introduced and that have become such standard Dolby-sound markers. I like the idea of it being a kind of coded, subculture, almost occult thing -- explains a lot.

MH -- That's funny, I actually typed this posting out misremembering and thinking they were ads for Subaru and not Mazda. (Thank fact-checking heavens for Google.) Seems to be one of those ads that's effective in the sense that you remember you've seen it, but fantastically ineffective in the sense that you have no idea what brand it was advertising. The operation was a success but the patient died.

Ken -- I think you may be a more devoted libertarian than I am!

Dave -- That's some seriously resourceful Googling, thanks. The experience of sheer motion: once again, it's the experience, not the thing that's being sold, I guess.

VdB -- Peppy and hairpin curves make a lot of sense. That's one of the things that happens to you as you float ever further outside the popcult orbit: generations of ads and stars go by, evolve into other ads and stars, develop their own conventions, etc. You check in with none of the usual preparation and feel bewildered: it's like you're watching Martians. Hey, I feel that way often watching young people generally. I really have no idea what dramas they're acting out. I get a dim sense that people my age are the villains, but beyond that, nothing.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 23, 2004 3:15 PM

Bob's comment makes a lot of sense out of these things. Especially the generation 1 commercials of this advertising pitch which I always hated with a passion because it seemed that whoever they got to do the "Zoom zoom zoom" song couldn't enunciate properly. Knowing that this may be the origin, naturally, does not alleviate my natural hatred for the pointlessness of these commercials. Car ads, by default, are horrible, but the Zoom Zoom ads are some of the worst.

Posted by: . on September 23, 2004 5:54 PM

I was beginning to think I was the only one who found the 'zoom zoom' campaign stupid. (I take
that back--my eighteen y.o. son also rolls his eyes at them.) Still, I'll take them over the even more inane commercial where the Spanish kid talks about the "powers magical" of the featured vehicle . . . but what I started to say was, at least there aren't as many car commercials this year featuring that awful faux-spiritually-exalted music that was so popular a few years ago.

I can't even remember the brands or models, so they couldn't have been effective.

Narr (long time lurker, first time poster)

Posted by: Narr le Dudh on September 23, 2004 6:14 PM

I'm sorry, that didn't exactly make sense. What I'm saying is that all of these things are either desirable because they represent a reduction in restraint and structure, or they are caused by things other than "doing away with traditional restraints and structures" in a quest for "personal liberation".

But the only "restraint" that fiber-optic cables reduce is restraints in bandwidth...that's kind of like saying the printing press is desirable because it reduces the speed restraints of having all texts hand-copied by monks. In other words, you could say this about pretty much any new technology that does anything more efficiently than its predecessors. Are you saying this sort of reduction of restraints is analogous to the reduction of moral/social restraints in the culture associated with the "quest for personal liberation"? I don't really see the connection...

Posted by: Jesse M. on September 23, 2004 10:58 PM

What a tempest in a teapot!

Zoom Zoom Zoom == Our Cars Go Fast And Are Fun To Drive. I agree that the latest ad, anyone, is pretty dumb...but I thought the point was clear. Now matter which Mazda you buy, you're going to get a car (so they claim) that's peppy and fun. For the Miata and the RX-8, that's undeniably true; I don't know about the others.

Posted by: Will Duquette on September 24, 2004 8:48 AM

Mr. Duquette:

I got the connection between fast cars and "zoom zoom" easily enough. What I didn't get was the rest of the ad campaign's stresses: i.e., androgyny, semi-dehumanization (drive your Mazda and be a good little well-adjusted urban unit)and the use of the child speaking in a hushed voice. I associate cars that go fast with a certain level of testosterone (in men or women), not this odd sense of sexual, economic and behavioral restraint. Is Mazda trying to appeal to some wounded inner child in its target demographic? I think it is this assumption that one can sell cars to people's inner child (and not even a very rambunctious inner child) that struck MB as symbolic of the ongoing infantilization of American consumers by youth-oriented corporate culture (mostly, advertising.)

Posted by: friedrich von blowhard on September 24, 2004 9:22 AM

"." -- Is there such a thing as an inspired or pleasing car ad? I wonder. I did love one a few years back. Two guys in hot cars, one of them with a hot chick aboard. They gun engines at each other at a stoplight. Chick gets out to wave 'em off on a drag race. She waves; her boyfriend roars off. The other guy just sits there smiling slyly. She gets in his car. Yeah, baby. Of course, I have no idea which brand of car was being advertised -- oops. But it was a clever and sexy ad that I remember fondly.

I once talked to an ad exec about the monotony of most car ads. She claimed that she and her fellow creatives had tons of nifty ideas, and occasionally got chances to try a few out. But the sad fact was that the archetypal car ads we're all over-used to (windy coastal roads, aerial shots, salt flats) actually do work better than the more clever or more beautiful ones. I wonder how the effectiveness of car ads is judged, though ...

Narr -- Thanks for joining in. Interesting to learn that a few other people find the "zoom zoom" ads especially annoying. Do you have any ideas about what makes them so especially annoying? Interesting to learn too that your kid doesn't like 'em. You'd think that if they were going to work for anyone, they'd work well for young people. I wonder if the Mazda people are happy with how well the ads have served them.

Jesse -- Sorry, are you addressing Ken? Me? In any case, as you know I'm just evoking an experience, not trying to put forward any highly objective explanation for how things are. Although I'd certainly be happy to give it a try over a beer or two.

Will -- I get the general young 'n' fun tone. But I'm still left wondering: why try to yoke cell phones to cars? And what's with the baby-talky quality of the phrase "zoom-zoom"? Are today's 20somethings responsive to baby talk? I wonder if someone remembered a few years back, when some edgy clubbers would show up at raves with pacifiers in their mouths. Hey, that would seem to confirm my hunch that because of changes in the culture it's getting harder and harder to leave youth behind. So maybe it is a brilliant ad campaign after all ...

FvB -- "good little well-adjusted urban unit," that's pretty funny. Maybe they're car ads for the Photoshopped metrosexual generation? The young people who find redemption and meaning in owning the latest cell phone? Or something?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on September 24, 2004 10:18 AM

I, too, find the ads annoying, and they certainly don't get me to want to buy a Mazda. My wife, however, just said (about three days ago, and spontaneously) that she really likes the campaign. I think my response was something like, "Ummmmmm, OK." My articulation knows perhaps a few bounds.

FWIW, the ad seems to me to be trying to hit two markets. The first message is, "Our cars go fast and corner well; you want a car that goes fast and corners well; buy our cars", and seems aimed at young car buyers. The second level is, "Remember when you thought cars were fun? They can be fun again. Buy our cars.", and is aimed at, for lack of a better term, the mid-life-crisis demographic.

But, heck, given my wife's response, perhaps the ad isn't a mistargeted ad aimed toward me, but rather an effective ad aimed at my wife.

As far as building brand identity, it strikes me as effective. If you weren't old enough to remember their rotary engine campaign of too many years ago, Mazda was just another in a host of Japanese car companies prior to this campaign. These ads are memorable and not annoying enough to get me to change the channel immediately.

I must say, though, that I don't understand how anyone could think the campaign was for Subaru. Subaru is the car for people who want but can't afford a Volvo. It's a rustbucket, but it never--quite--stops running.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on September 24, 2004 11:33 AM


Posted by: mod on October 8, 2004 2:19 AM

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